Has the Dispute Around Jusan Bank᾽a Come to an End? Will Central Asia Become a Battleground Between the West and China?

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Western publications this week write about the return of control over Jusan Bank by Kazakhstan, noting that the agreement reached with foreign beneficiaries “will put an end to the largest dispute over assets in the post-Nazarbayev period.” The press is looking for an answer to the question of whether Central Asia will become a platform for confrontation between Europe and China. Foreign media also report on the verdict in the case of the “seizure” of the Almaty airport during the January events.

« THE LARGEST ASSET DISPUT IN THE POST-NAZARBAYEV PERIOD»

Under an agreement with Jusan Group, Galimzhan Yessenov, a minority shareholder of Jusan Bank, will receive full control over the bank, Bloomberg reports citing sources. Bloomberg writes that “the deal will end the largest asset dispute since Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down as president in 2019.”

According to the agency, Yessenov will increase his stake in First Heartland Jusan Bank from 20 to 100 percent. The shares will be sold to him by the British company Jusan Technologies, which was associated with the Nazarbayev Fund, founded by ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Jusan Bank confirmed to the agency that a “constructive settlement” had been reached, but did not disclose the details of the agreement.

Nazarbayev’s successor, current president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, is “trying to tighten control over the economy and assets,” according to Bloomberg. After the bloody events of January, Tokayev pushed back the relatives of the ex-president and many of his supporters and promised to fight the oligopoly, the newspaper notes, recalling Tokayev’s recent signing of a law on the return of illegally withdrawn assets.

The author of the publication, Nariman Gizitdinov, writes that the settlement agreement with the Jusan Group will put an end to the five-month lawsuit. In February, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that Almaty was considering a prosecutor’s claim to invalidate a deal between Pioneer Capital Invest and Jusan Technologies Ltd., owned by the Nazarbayev Foundation, to transfer the assets of First Heartland Jusan Bank and related entities to foreign jurisdictions.

On February 16, the British company Jusan Technologies ltd (it owns First Heartland Securities, a shareholder of Jusan Bank), as well as its main shareholder Jysan Holding, registered in the state of Nevada, USA, filed a lawsuit against the government of Kazakhstan in the Federal District Court of the US state . Jysan Holding accused the government of Kazakhstan of “conducting a campaign of intimidation to seize control of more than $1.5 billion in Kazakhstani assets of companies.”

Jusan Bank and the Jusan Group, which owns it, have said they have nothing to do with Nazarbayev and his family.

On June 13, the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan, together with other state bodies, announced that the Jusan group “has been returned to the jurisdiction of Kazakhstan, the relevant documents have been signed.” But the ministry did not specify how the return was made, citing the confidentiality of the agreement.

According to Bloomberg, Yessenov previously filed a lawsuit against Jusan Technologies and its subsidiaries, demanding payment of the value of his stake in the bank and the dividends due to him. Bloomberg sources report that, under an agreement with the Jusan group, the parties will recalculate and increase Yessenov’s share after the merger of Jusan Bank and ATF Bank (Yessenov was the owner of ATF Bank). Yessenov will be compensated for the lost dividends and the difference from the recalculation of his share.

According to sources, Jusan Technologies will transfer to Yessenov not only the bank, but also nine percent of the shares of the national company Kazakhtelecom and 15 percent of the shares of the mobile operator Kcell. Yessenov, on the other hand, undertakes to finance Nazarbayev University and Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. These educational institutions were supported by the New Generation Foundation, a Nevada-based organization that is the ultimate owner of Jusan Technologies and Jysan Holding.

Kazakh media wrote that Yessenov was married to the daughter of Akhmetzhan Yessimov, the ex-head of the Samruk-Kazyna fund.

Jusan Technologies, Jysan Holding and the Ministry of Justice, which represents the Kazakh government in court, did not respond to Bloomberg’s inquiries. Yessenov’s spokesman declined to comment.

“COMPETITION” BETWEEN CHINA AND THE EU IN CENTRAL ASIA

The US-based Diplomat magazine analyzes whether Central Asia will become a battleground between Europe and China.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused unprecedented changes in Eurasian geopolitics, and Central Asia has become a testing ground for new strategic shifts. A number of external powers are vying for influence in the region, and the European Union is one of them,” says author Plamen Tonchev, head of the Asia department at the Institute of International Economic Relations in Greece.

Could this lead to tension between China and the European Union? According to the researcher, it is necessary first of all to take into account the situation in the region. Russia’s failures in the war with Ukraine opened the way for China to increase its influence in Central Asia. But Beijing is being careful not to look like it is trying to replace Moscow.

The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s main narrative in the region. A summit in Xi’an in May showed that the project is still viable and that Beijing’s influence is growing. Last year, China’s trade with the region reached $70 billion. By the end of 2022, China has invested $15 billion in Central Asia.

Beijing has stepped up cooperation with the armed forces and intelligence services of Central Asia. For example, China has sent private security companies to protect its projects in Kyrgyzstan, and Chinese military police units guard Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The European Union is the main trading partner of the region: in 2022, the trade turnover of the EU countries with Central Asia reached $52 billion. In 2022, 42 percent of foreign direct investment in Central Asia came from the European Union, while Chinese investment in this period was only 3.7 percent.

Tonchev considers it unlikely that the EU will get involved in friction with China over Central Asia. “The EU is at odds with Russia, but not with China. Central Asia will not become a geopolitical battleground between the EU and China, as the two players have other points of contention. For example, China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, affecting not only Uyghurs but also ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, have been an acute problem. The EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement has been put on hold.

Nevertheless, Tonchev believes that China and the EU will compete in Central Asia in areas such as access to natural resources and technology transfer. EU countries are ready to share industrial technologies, China is already actively engaged in this.

The European Union is a larger donor and investor in the region than China. Tonchev believes the EU should conduct more effective “strategic communication” in response to China’s narratives in the region. The author argues that the “battle of narratives” between the EU and China will clear up in the coming years.

SENTENCE IN THE CASE OF “CAPTURE” OF THE AIRPORT CAUSED PROTESTS

Eurasianet writes that the July 11 verdict against five defendants in the case of the “occupation” of the Almaty airport during the January events caused protests in the courtroom.

A court in Almaty has sentenced 38-year-old professional translator, journalist and activist Aigerim Tleuzhan to four years in prison on charges of “organizing riots at an airport.” History teacher and activist Kalas Nurpeisov and three Almaty residents – Nurlan Dalibaev, Yermukhamet Shilibaev and Zhanaydar Karmenov – each received eight years in prison. The court called them guilty of “organizing riots”, “attacking buildings”, “robbery”, “carjacking”.

“The severity of the sentence is likely to exacerbate fears that the Kazakh authorities are not delivering on promises of greater political liberalization,” said Almaz Kumenov, author of the article.

In an interview with Eurasianet, Tleuzhan and Nurpeisov previously said they were at the airport on January 5, but they disagree with the allegations. Tleuzhan said she went to the airport after hearing about the arrival of foreign troops in Kazakhstan. The Internet was then turned off in the city, it was reported on television that Tokayev turned to the Collective Security Treaty Organization for military assistance and the Russian-led CSTO agreed to send a limited contingent. Tleuzhan said that unarmed people arrived at the airport, they did not have the goal of seizing the air harbor.

“The events at the Almaty airport may be controversial, but it is indisputable that the group convicted on July 11 is not the 20,000 “bandits” and terrorists that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev spoke about at the height of the confrontation,” the author says.

Tokayev said that the Almaty airport was seized on January 5 by militants who ensured “the passage through it of citizens who had flown in from a Central Asian city” under the guise of guest workers and began to lead the operation.

“Failing to find trained fighters, prosecutors instead turned their attention to people like Tleuzhan,” the author concludes.

Source Азаттык